Counting decimal places

As a biochemist I have become quite accustomed to doing unit conversions in my head and working in scientific notation. But we all occasionally have to stop and count decimal places to get it right. The owner of this calculator (a student left it in one of our teaching labs) obviously has particular problems with this!

Opportunity Cost of Social Media

An article well worth reading on the opportunity cost of social media: Is social media robbing us of our dearest hopes and dreams in life?

The subtitle ‘The biggest problem with social media? It is designed to give us exactly the opposite of what we truly want in life’, sums up the gist of it. Effectively, there is a clash between the interests of those who provide the social media technology and the interests of the people who use it. Think of what Facebook or Twitter are trying to achieve:

What does technology want? It wants more clicks, more time on site, higher conversation rates, etc. It wants your attention

Then consider what your own goals are:

What do we want? Well, presumably our dearest hopes and dreams for our lives go far beyond spending another 20 minutes on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc.

A personal action I have decided upon after reading this article is to start breaking my lists of stuff I want to get done into tasks that will take only 10 to 20 minutes so I can see the real opportunity cost of wasting time dicking around on social media when I have other things I can easily do in the time I would waste doing that.

I can agree that social media can serve a useful purpose, and it can be used as a form of entertainment. Some people also consider slot machines to be a benign form of entertainment, but when I look at the money that gets pumped into them it’s easy for me to imagine what else could be done with that money. Our time is a less renewable resource than money so I’d like to retain control of what I spend mine on.

 

Pencils

I have an odd obsession; pencils.

Don’t laugh, I’m serious, there is even a podcast that exclusively discusses pencils.

Obviously I’ve used bog standard pencils for years, generally without giving them much thought aside from noting which ones pissed me off when the leads broke in sharpeners, the wood split or they were gritty and scratchy when writing. Since finishing school my use of pencils diminished in favour of pens, especially as my use of handwriting moved from the presentation of finished work to being used for writing rough drafts that would end up typed into a computer.

With the superior presentation facilitated by computers and laser printers, handwriting for me has become something that generally only I see and a thinking tool for getting ideas onto paper away from screens and gadgets. These days my handwriting no longer needs to be neat or free from cross-outs, meaning that pen is as convenient as any other writing tool. Pens don’t need to be sharpened and the tips don’t break as do pencil leads.

However, with my change of occupation back to being a lab technician after over ten years in office environments, I’m finding pencils are more versatile, being easier to manipulate with gloves on and quicker to use for brief notes. Pencils work instantly and write on surfaces that ballpoint pens don’t, such as damp or frozen labels, thermal paper, and electrophoresis strips. Obviously pencils are also erasable and in my job we often use paper checklists and need to erase the previous set of check marks so pencil is the only option there. Somehow the simplicity and disposability of a wooden pencil seems more appropriate in an environment where we have concerns and regulations about chemical and biological contamination.

Beyond the lab I am enjoying using pencils again for general note taking and writing tasks such as drafting blog posts. I prefer to write my drafts by hand and with pen the result is a lot of cross outs as I correct my spelling or think of a better way to phrase something. With pencil I can rub out the mistakes and end up with a cleaner draft that is easier to follow as I type it into WordPress.

A major contributor to my new enjoyment in using pencils is the discovery of better quality pencils. I used to think that pencils came in two categories, those that were OK and the crappy ones with spilt wood and fragile, scratchy leads. Through listening to Tim, Johnny and Andy on the Erasable Podcast I learned about the iconic Palomino Blackwing 602 so ordered a couple online and was amazed at how nice they are to write with compared to the Staedtler Tradition pencils I’m accustomed to using. There is a real difference between el cheapo pencils and quality pencils.

My next step down the rabbit hole of pencil geekery was to order an assortment of pencils from what may be the only retail shop in the world that specialises in pencils and related accessories, CW Pencil Enterprise. I’m still in the process of trying those out so will reserve judgement until I’ve used them enough to determine which are my favourites.

(I wrote this over a year ago but never published it until now. At least this enables me to say confidently that my all round favourite pencil is the Swiss Wood, it is smooth to write with and holds its point really well. The main drawback is the price at about NZ$7 each by the time you get it shipped from the UK or US.)


Some interesting links:

Drafts deleted

For many months I’ve had about forty pieces of posts sitting in my drafts folder. Unfortunately when I have looked through those posts I’ve been unable to find the motivation to finish any of them. So they have sat there taunting me with their half considered ideas until I decided to spend a couple of hours deciding whether I would actually finish writing any of those posts or not. In the end I realised that they had all either gone stale, been covered in some way by other posts I have written, or could safely be deleted because I can easily enough rewrite anything I’d had as a draft.

So now they are all gone, I have a nice clean WordPress dashboard with only the post I’m currently writing as a draft. It is like starting a new notebook, all blank pages ready to be filled with whatever I choose to write and no constraints.